Increasing awareness of sex differences in airway diseases

Respirology. 2016 Apr;21(3):449-59. doi: 10.1111/resp.12702. Epub 2015 Dec 18.


There is growing epidemiologic data demonstrating sex differences with respect to prevalence and progression of airway diseases, including asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis (CF) and non-CF-related bronchiectasis. In asthma, for example, young boys have increased exacerbations and higher morbidity than girls which distinctly reverses after adolescence and into adulthood. In COPD, a disease that was historically considered an illness of men, the number of women dying per year is now greater than in men. Finally, women with CF-related bronchiectasis have a decreased median life expectancy relative to men and a higher risk of respiratory infections despite equal prevalence of the disease. A number of studies now exist demonstrating mechanisms behind these sex differences, including influences of genetic predisposition, sex hormones and comorbidities. The notable sex disparity has potential diagnostic, therapeutic and prognostic implications and for the practicing respiratory or general physician, a familiarity with these distinctions may augment effective management of patients with airway diseases. This review seeks to concisely summarize the data regarding gender-based differences in airway diseases, outline the current understanding of contributing factors and discuss therapeutic implications for clinicians.

Keywords: airway disease; disparity; oestrogen; sex.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Awareness*
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Global Health
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Morbidity
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / psychology*
  • Sex Distribution
  • Sex Factors